Rayner moved to levelling up brief as Keir Starmer shuffles the pack

Starmer begins major reshuffle of his shadow cabinet ahead of next year's election
Photo: GaryRobertsphotography/Alamy

By Zoe Crowther

04 Sep 2023

Labour leader Keir Starmer has carried out a major reshuffle of his shadow cabinet, appointing a number of veterans of the last Labour government in an apparent attempt to strengthen the experience in his top team ahead of the next general election.

Starmer made a number of changes to his shadow cabinet throughout Monday as parliament returned for its first day following summer recess, including promoting a number of figures with prior experience of government the last time Labour were in power, under former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

While many of the appointments have been praised by Labour figures as a sign that Labour is "serious" about getting into government, some left-wing groups have criticised the reshuffle as being bad news for the left of the party, as Blairite figures such as Liz Kendall and Hillary Benn return to the frontbenches.

Angela Rayner has been appointed as shadow deputy prime minister and shadow levelling up, housing and communities secretary. The position is considered to be a significant brief in the run-up to the next general election, challenging levelling up secretary Michael Gove at the despatch box. Rayner retains her elected position as deputy Labour leader.

Rayner replaces Lisa Nandy in the levelling up role. Nandy has been appointed as shadow cabinet minister for international development, which will be widely viewed as a demotion from her previous job – although she will still attend shadow cabinet. The corresponding government minister is the position of minister of state for development and Africa, held by Tory MP Andrew Mitchell.

Lucy Powell, who was previously shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, has been appointed shadow leader of the House of Commons, so will remain in the shadow cabinet.

Speculation that Starmer planned to reshuffle the shadow cabinet has swirled throughout the summer, with a question hanging over the leader as to whether he would mirror the four newly-created government departments. However, Peter Kyle has now been appointed shadow secretary of state for science, innovation and technology, confirming that Labour does intend to mirror the government department positions to some degree. Hillary Benn, who was a secretary of state in the Labour governments under Blair and Brown, is returning to the frontbenches to replace Kyle as shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

Shabana Mahmood, who is Labour's national campaign coordinator, has been appointed shadow secretary of state for justice, replacing Steve Reed. Reed is taking up the spot of shadow secretary of state for environment and rural affairs, which was vacated by MP Jim McMahon earlier on Monday morning.

Pat McFadden has been appointed shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and national campaign coordinator, while Ellie Reeves has been promoted to deputy national campaign coordinator, so will now attend shadow cabinet and serve on Labour’s National Executive Committee alongside McFadden.

Liz Kendall has been promoted to shadow secretary of state for work and pensions from her previous role as shadow minister for social care. Kendall is replacing the former shadow pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth, who will now take up the shadow cabinet position of shadow paymaster general in the Cabinet Office. 

Thangam Debbonaire, who has held the role of shadow leader of the House of Commons since 2021 and a number of previous shadow frontbench roles, has now been appointed shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport. Nick Thomas-Symonds – previously shadow secretary for international trade – has been appointed shadow minister without portfolio in the Cabinet Office.

Darren Jones, who was previously chair of the parliamentary business committee but has been widely tipped for promotion, has been appointed shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.

The reshuffle began early on Monday after McMahon, who has held the shadow environment brief since 2021, resigned from his role. In his resignation letter, he said the “time is right to step back from the workload”, and expressed his support for the party in the run-up to the next general election.

“As the reshuffle begins this week, I wanted to take the opportunity to step down from the Shadow Cabinet,” he said.

“This has been a very difficult decision for me, but as we have discussed previously, I have faced a number of personal challenges in the last year coming back from a serious illness. The road to recovery has been testing and although I am better than I was, there is still some way to go." McMahon had been in hospital for two weeks last autumn for a serious infection. 

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has also resigned from her shadow cabinet position as shadow mental health minister.

In her resignation letter, she said she had made the decision weeks ago to leave the role as it would no longer be a Cabinet position if Labour got into government. 

"As discussed previously, and in our call earlier, you made clear that you do not see a space for a mental health portfolio in a Labour Cabinet, which is why I told you many weeks ago that I would not be able to continue in this role," she wrote to Starmer.

"From the backbenches, I look forward to holding the Government to account and standing up for the Labour values I have always believed in.

The original version of this article, which was writtten by Zoe Crowther, first appeared on Politics Home, a sister publication of CSW.

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